I’ve been enjoying the Twitter for the last number of weeks and months. I’ve been posting photos I have taken all over Western Canada from the past number of years and having a great time meeting wonderful Travel and Tourism groups as a result. One of the Groups I have been corresponding with is called Go Here Destinations. They are a dedicated team of bloggers and tweeters, promoting Southwest Saskatchewan. My interactions with this fun group has me thinking about the area, and the reasons we love it.
We love Saskatchewan (I grew up there), and for us, is the most accessible area of Saskatchewan from Calgary. Just a 3+ hour drive from our home, down the TransCanada Highway and you cross the border into Saskatchewan, Naturally.
I grew up in North Battleford, just a few hours North, but to be honest I only spent 1 weekend in this area of the province in all the years I lived up there. The highways weren’t the easiest to travel and due to our abundance of recreational opportunities around N.Bford, there wasn’t much call to head south. The one weekend I did spend there was great and truly burned an image into my mind of clean, clear and wide open spaces that I have since fostered into a true love of the area.
Traci and I moved from Prince George BC, where we spent less than a year, to Calgary in 1998 and settled into our life as we know it. For the first year or so we explored Southern and Central Alberta, getting to know our own backyard. We loved tent camping, but always had a healthy fear of bears, and as a result the prairie campgrounds that offered a wilderness experience were hard to find.
I can’t remember the exact year that we started to head for the Center Block Campgrounds, but our annual (at least) trips were always incredible, with the perfect mix of wilderness and civilization. The Campgrounds are located in the most remote stand of Lodgepole Pines in North America, provide huge camping sites with lots of room between groups and along with clean and well maintained washroom/ service centers, the area offer a 9 hole golf course, a small lake, outdoor pool and convenience store.
The recreation activities available are as varied as the people who frequent the area. Along with the activities noted above, there is Horseback Riding, Hiking, an interpretive outdoor theater, and like any good Saskatchewan outdoor attraction, Sky-watching.
Cypress Hills Geography is amazing. Rising 600 meters/ 1970 feet above the surrounding plains, the area was missed by the last great ice age, leaving the unique area intact. The surround prairie is a true semi-arid desert and in stark contrast to the topography up top. It is cooler and clearer most days, and on some occasions are actually in the clouds. Where the plains below are normally brown and dry, the hills are green and lush, being home to Moose, Cougar, Deer, and much flora and fauna found normally far west or north of here.
Our favorite pastime when camping here was stargazing. Cypress Hills is now designated a World Dark Sky preserve and is the only place I have ever seen the milky way with the naked eye. You have never seen more stars, I guarantee it.
We have camped in Cypress Hills at least a dozen times in the 14 years since moving to Calgary. Part of our enjoyment of the area is, well, the area. We have taken day trips from the campground to explore the surroundings. Maple Creek is the service hub, and on more occasions than not we have shopped for our groceries and supplies at the friendly Co-op Grocery store right in town. The unique shops, Museums and the Ice Cream shop draw us back to this vibrant ranching town on every visit. We haven’t spent much time North of the Trans Canada, only because there is so much to do on the Park side of the Highway, but on my Bucket List is the Great Sand Hills, with the park headquarters about an hours drive north in the village of Septre. I understand the sand hills are a hoot to explore via crazy carpet, a-la downhill sliding!
On one occasion, we toured the entire area, visiting towns such as Eastend, the home of Scotty the T-Rex, Shaunavon, and Gull Lake. One feature of that tour is the abundance of really cool abandoned arch concrete bridges all along the route.
On 3 separate occasions we stayed at the Cypress Hills Resort. We had never explored this very nice lodge until we got rained out in the campground on an extended weekend, so we rented a cabin. It was a nice experience, so in the fall of 2007 we booked a relaxing weekend in one of the townhouse style loft units.
While not a 5 star beach front resort, it is clean, warm, well appointed and extremely quiet. The location sits up above the lake and is nestled comfortably in the Pine forest, providing a retreat experience found no where else on the prairies. The Resort is open year round and has an activity schedule to satisfy all family members. This past February, we spent Family day weekend in a 2 bedroom Cabin. Our son was excited as this was the only place on the prairies that had any snow. We spent a good part of each day sliding an laughing in the wonderful scenery.
Saskatchewan is world renowned for it’s friendly and relaxed people and places, and the Cypress Hills area is no exception. A portion of our annual vacation allowance is always planned for this wonderful area. We never seem to run out of new things to do or see here, giving us many reasons to return.
And incidentally the area is as good as anywhere I have found for shooting photography.